Good morning! Today we begin a journey through the book of Acts. It’s the story of the how God built his church. Remember the church is not a building, although it may have a building as a tool for ministry, the church is people called together around the Word and sacraments, gifted for ministry and sent into the world, to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ through: Living Worship, Growing Faith, Serving Fellowship, and Sending Saints.
The church is the living Body of Christ in the world. It is a fellowship – a fellowship so unique that a special word was coined to describe it. It’s the word “koinonia”.
The church was born on that first Pentecost Sunday when the Lord poured out his Holy Spirit on 120 believers in Jerusalem. That afternoon, Peter preached his first sermon and 3,000 people received Jesus as their Lord and Savior and were baptized. Wow!
Those people carried the Gospel back to their home countries -India, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Armenia, Arabia, Crete, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Greece, Italy and all over Israel, specifically Jerusalem. Let’s open our Bibles to Acts 2:42.
Let me read if for you again… “They (these infant Christians) devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.” Acts 2:42-44
When I was among the new believers in South Africa this was the Scripture that came to mind. This was basic NT Christianity. This was the church in its rawest form. (2 pics)
Just like in Acts, these new Christians had been delivered from demon possession, fear, and idolatry of many kinds. They were infants in Jesus. They knew little of the Bible. What they did know is that Jesus was real and he had set them free. He had healed their diseases and in some cases even raised the dead. Not 2,000 years ago, but today.
They threw away their talismans, charms. They turned their back on witchcraft. They opened their hearts to learn the Word of God through the Bible. (pic)Instead of praying and offering sacrifice to their ancestors, they prayed and sang their praises to Jesus.
Instead of stealing from their neighbor, committing adultery, beating their wives and children, they began to love their families and serve and share with their neighbors. (pic)They became a Jesus community, a fellowship, maybe just 2 or 3 people but a church was born, and transformation began to take place. The Bible calls it koinonia.
Luke continues his description of the infant church in Jerusalem. “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:45-47
This is not communism. They didn’t sell everything and give it to the government. But when someone was in need, they freely, generously shared as the Lord prompted them. This kind of generosity has always been a mark of the Holy Spirit.
Often, like the old woman Jesus told about, it was those with the least who share the most. We experienced this in Transkei. These rural Christians shared the best they had with us. Kelly said, “These families will go without for the next week in order to bless you with this meal today.”
Fellowship is foundational to true koinonia. These new believers loved to meet together, pray together, eat together, worship together. Note the words, “with glad and sincere hearts”. If we want to experience Biblical koinonia we need to let go of worrying about what others think of us. There is no room for self-centeredness or pride in Holy Spirit koinonia.
It is honest, other centered, humble before the Lord and before each other. Vs 42. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.” Acts 2:42-44
It was my second year at Montana State. Even though I grew up in a Christian home and had prayed from childhood, I was drifting. There were 3 young women who ate in the Hedges lunch room and I saw them every day. They would always bow their heads and pray before they ate. It bugged me. There was something in me that judged them. “Who do they think they are showing off like that? They must think they are holier than the rest of us.”
Even though the Holy Spirit was urging me to do the same, I either obstinately resisted or I scratched my eyebrows and gave a token prayer hoping no one would notice.
In my daily devotion this week, Pastor Timothy Keller writes that one of the symptoms of our sinful nature is that we see prayer as boring and sin as enticing. Either we are too proud to pray, thinking that we can do it ourselves and we don’t need any help - that’s bogus.
Or we refuse to pray because we don’t want to just blab words we really don’t mean. There’s some merit in that. Or we judge the prayers of others as hypocritical and phony – that’s pretty judgmental – only God has the right to judge the sincerity of someone else’s prayer. Maybe the real problem is that we are so ashamed of our sinful attitudes and behaviors that we are afraid to draw near to the Lord - so we hide. We remain silent.
The amazing thing is, when we repent of our haughtiness, humble ourselves, ask the Lord to cleanse and forgive us and come inside us – when we open up and take the risk to be transparent, our attitude toward others, toward the Lord and especially toward prayer changes. These baby Christians in the book of Acts devoted themselves to prayer.
I saw this in the baby Christians in the Transkei. It happened for me and for my classmates 40 years ago at Lutheran Bible Institute. It happened during the Jesus movement among the youth of America in the 1970s. It happened after WW2 to the young people of my mother’s generation. Historians point to revivals across the centuries and every time the Holy Spirit moved, hearts were humbled and people came together and began to pour out their hearts together in earnest, honest prayer.
In Luke’s account, this happened in large group gatherings, like our Sunday morning and in their homes, like our small group meetings. There are lots of ways to do church. There are lots of places where church can happen.
What matters is that people respond to the Holy Spirit by coming together under the authority of the Word. We connect with each other. We support and encourage each other. We sing together, serve one another. We seek the Lord in humble honest prayer.
There was a time in my life when I asked the question, see if you can relate. “Why should I go to church? I can be a Christian without going to church! My church is hiking in the wilderness. God is with me there as much as he is in a building. Besides, church is a human institution and many of the people there are hypocrites. I work hard all week and it’s just too hard to get up early and go to another meeting!”
Anyone besides myself ever struggle with this? The answer can’t be found in what your mother said or some preacher said. The issue isn’t resisting their authority over you. The issue is what Jesus said and what he expects of us.
If you want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, if you want to become more like him, and learn more about God’s will for your life – then church is the place you need to be. When Jesus becomes Lord of your life, you will love His church. Here’s some reasons why!
Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Mt 18:20 Jesus is the living Word of God and he meets us in the publicly reading and proclamation of his Word. He is the Bread of Life and he promises to meet us in the mystery of communion together. He also promises to inhabit the praises of his people. When you worship, you join the angels and all creation in praising the only One who is worthy of our praise!
“Yeah, but what about those people in church who are hypocrites”. You expect to see sick people in the doctor’s office. You expect to see hungry people at the restaurant. Whenever Jesus ministered in public he was surrounded by “sinners” in need of healing. Satan is the great accuser of men before God, not you! The church the place where hungry sinners gather. Does that include you? It’s not our job to judge the people the Holy Spirit draws.
God is big into community. He exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Three in One in perfect unity. He calls us into a community with himself and with each other that begins now and is brought to completion in the life to come.
Satan, on the other hand, is not interested in community. He rejected that in favor of judging others and exalting himself. If Jesus loved the church, broken, frail as it is, shouldn’t we? Maybe our reluctance to worship and pray says more about the sin in our own hearts, than it does about the sins of the church!
Are you willing to be identified with Jesus and his family? Are you willing to love them and do your part in the work of His kingdom? If this has been a problem for you, I encourage you, get on your knees and turn your excuses over to him. Then commit yourself to Christian koinonia - to meet regularly with God’s people, eagerly hear His Word, practice generosity, make it your aim to love his people and grow in your ability to pray and praise him together with his people.